Elementary season 4 episode 1 review: The Past Is Parent

Elementary is back in fine fettle in emotionally satisfying, tantalising season four opener, The Past Is Parent…

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 The Past Is Parent

There’s a certain joy to be had from a season four premiere. It’s far enough along a show’s lifespan that it feels like welcoming back an old friend, but not so far along that it feels like the old friend in question has hung around too long after a party, drunk the house dry, bored everyone with the nth repetition of its one good anecdote, and forced you to fake a please-leave-now yawn so loud you’ve woken the kids up.

Pleasant though it was to go back to the Brownstone, The Past Is Parent had a great deal more to offer than the comfort of familiarity. It was comfortably the show’s best episode since The One That Got Away, also written by showrunner Robert Doherty. There was a captivating murder case, emotionally satisfying character work, and the arrival of a man no less anticipated than Godot.

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That’s right, after three long seasons, Holmes Sr. has finally put in an appearance chez Sherlock. It may have been a brief appearance, but even that short rooftop exchange was enough to persuade me that John Noble was the perfect choice for the part. My three-years-in-the-making casting wish-list (which, admittedly, only featured the words “Jeremy” and “Irons”) can now happily be crumpled up and kicked into the trash.

That rooftop scene answered with a resounding yes the only question that matters when it comes to casting Sherlock Holmes’ father: can he hold his own against Jonny Lee Miller?

Because Miller is Elementary’s UV light; shine him on a co-star and any unpleasant stains/shortcomings will soon be shown up. He’s so good in the show that it takes a certain class of guest actor not to be overshadowed by his performance. Ophelia Lovibond managed it. So did Roger Rees and John Hannah. Rhys Ifans made it look easy. John Noble, it appears, is the latest name to add to the list. (Incidentally, now that dad’s in the picture, can we see what’s to be done about getting Mycroft out of hiding? Imagine that trio in action.)

Even if he did provide the cliff-hanger, Noble’s character wasn’t the focus of this episode. Neither was Sherlock’s addiction, surprisingly. We greeted Miller’s character fresh from using, and dealing with the professional consequences of his relapse, but sober and going to meetings. And so the slow drip-drip of that leaky faucet recovery continues.

The real focus of this premiere, joyfully so after season three’s unnecessary hostility, was the Holmes/Watson partnership. Ousted from the NYPD, the duo may be temporarily out of a job, but their friendship is more solid than ever. As Joan made clear, whether they work in New York, New Jersey or San Pedro Sula, it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re working together. Holmes and Watson, just as it should be.

The episode showed each going out to bat for the other in a glorious display of solidarity. Joan squared up to Holmes Sr.’s lackey to protect Sherlock (“What’s the hardest you’ve ever been hit?”), and Sherlock did everything he could to get her job back and untangle Joan from a mess of his own making. But she wouldn’t be untangled.

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Sherlock and Watson getting their marching orders from the NYPD and the arrival of Holmes the elder are both sources of deep joy in Elementary. In terms of the former, the most lacklustre of season three’s episodes were those that dealt in generic precinct drama such as could be found in any police procedural you’d care to name. Cut free from all that, there’ll be scope for more of this show’s characteristic case ingenuity.  As for the latter, the best work Elementary does involves Jonny Lee Miller dredging up pain from Sherlock’s past. Daddy dearest being around promises a world of that.

All that, and proof that the Sherlock/Moriarty correspondence is still ongoing. Right now, I couldn’t be a happier, or more optimistic Elementary fan.

Read Frances’ review of the season three finale, A Controlled Descent, here